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Appeasing Hitler

Tim Bouverie has written a measured, well researched account of the Appeasement years. He cites several reasons for the appeasement policy of Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain:

1) the country was ill-prepared for war;

2) there was a mood of pacifism in the country which may well have resulted in defeat for the Conservatives were they perceived as war-mongering;

3) there was fear of Bolshevism especially amongst the aristocratic classes;

4) there was a lack of cohesion, unity and union amongst the Great Powers, Britain, France and Russia.

Bouverie addresses all these issues.

Whilst 1) above is true, it applied to Germany too who re-armed quicker and more effectively after Munich (1938) and Chamberlain’s famous dictum of “Peace for our time”;

2) was also true but the public mood was fickle and changed after the Anschluss and invasion of Czechoslovakia;

3) many of the aristocrats actively or passively supported fascism;

4) there was a total failure of diplomacy, much of which was conducted by well-intentioned amateurs like Lord Lothian whom Hitler easily exploited.

It is not just the 20/20 vision of historical hindsight which reveals and reflects the biggest failure of all: the misreading of Hitler and his intentions of global aggrandisement.

Sir Horace Rumbold, the former Berlin Ambassador, was one of the rare that had read Mein Kampf but surely the invasion of the Rheinland (1936), Kristallnacht, the destruction of the synagogues (1938) and the invasion of Czechoslovakia (1938) should have made clear to anyone of the evil motives of Nazism.

Some of the details would not be out of place in Dad’s Army. During the phoney war of 1939 the RAF dropped leaflets over Germany. One journalist asked to see one only to be refused as “these were classified as they could fall into enemy hands.”

Winston Churchill was of course another who constantly saw Hitler in his true light. However he was a Liberal for 20 years, difficult to work with and as Baldwin – that most reactive of leaders and pretty slowly too but an astute reader of public opinion – told Churchill his talk was not what the electorate wanted to hear and may have resulted in a Labour victory.

Churchill was fortunate that the blame for the disorganised, disastrous Norway campaign of 1939 which took place when he was Lord of the Admiralty, was borne by Chamberlain who duly resigned.

Rather like a judge Bouverie reviews all the evidence and delivers his verdict that the indictment of the appeasers Sir John Simon, Neville Chamberlain and Stanley Balwin was justified, but one appeaser RAB Butler became a significant Tory figure post-Churchill.

This is highly readable book which any scholar or just the somewhat interested would enjoy.

About Henry Elkins

A keen researcher of family ancestors, Henry will be reporting on the centenary of World War One. More Posts